Last week we talked about the high number of children and teenagers who are suffering from anxiety and depression. Today, we’re using the Quadrants of Wellbeing framework to understand how we can help our children and teenagers.
Helping Kids Cope — From a Whole Body Perspective
I have two main ideas that guide my health and wellness practice, both personally and for my clients. The first is the Quadrants of Wellbeing, which asks us to look at the four parts of our body and life and how they are impacting our health. The second is Small Changes, Big Shifts. There isn’t one magic bullet that is going to immediately erase all of a kid’s anxiety, but there are small changes that can be made that will make big shifts as they implement them consistently.
Within the Quadrants of Wellbeing, there are a variety of small changes that you can make and help your child or teenager with.
- Teach and help kids to take care of their physical bodies by getting enough sleep and moving their bodies daily.
Children and teenagers need more sleep than adults, usually 8 – 10 hours each night. Help them get enough sleep by setting curfews and bedtimes. Check on your teenagers to make sure they are sleeping and not staying up on their phones all night. You can start working with your children on their sleep at a young age, but you will need to continue helping your children as they grow up.
Help them to move their bodies every day. Give them time and space to play and move their bodies. Encourage them in the ways that they enjoy. If they like riding bikes, make time to do it together. If they like to dance, dance in the kitchen after dinner. As they get older, encourage them to participate in sports.
- Teach children and teenagers to appreciate their bodies.
Their bodies are strong and healthy. Help them connect to their bodies, to notice their bodies and how they feel. Encourage them to do the things that make their bodies feel strong and healthy.
With social media and the constant connection to their phones, many teenagers are living life online and feeling extremely disconnected from their body and the real world around them. Appreciating their body and what it can do is one way to connect back to the real world.
- Teach and help them take care of their bodies by eating healthy food and drinking plenty of water.
Food is the fuel that powers our bodies. We don’t fill our gas tanks with trash from our garbage can, because we know the car won’t run with that. We need to feed our children good fuel that will help power their bodies and give them the nutrients they need to grow. Helping children eat healthy can be a challenge, but there are many ways to get them involved.
I say often that you need to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. The same is true for kids. Give them at least half of their body weight in ounces of water. If they ask for more, let them keep drinking.
- Work with doctors who can understand and treat chemical imbalances that might be making anxiety worse.
There are many approaches that we can and should try before we turn to medication like Prozac. Find a doctor who can work with you and your child, who can do lab work and consider supplements that might help, who can connect you with therapists or groups, and who will work with you on other approaches before prescribing medications. And if medication is necessary, find a doctor who will work with you and your child to find the right dosages.
- Create down-time and device-free time.
The common complaint is teenagers are always connected to their phones. Even if you are sitting together, they are on their phone and immersed in a completely different world. Of course the truth is that you might also be in a completely different world.
Create device-free time that you all observe together. You get to disconnect from work and your obligations, and your children get to disconnect from school and the clamorings of social media. Choose activities that you can do during device-free time, either individually or as a family. Depending on the age of your children, get them involved in setting the rules for this down-time.
- Connect to the physical world.
Go for a walk outside, play in a park, spend time at the lake. Take time to connect your physical body, your mind, and your energy to the world around you rather than the one on your screen.
With a heart-to-heart hug, you share your energy field and can give another person a boost. A hug is also a way to physically and wordlessly say that you are here for your child.
- Help kids understand and express their feelings.
Teach them the vocabulary to express their feelings. This can be as simple as saying, “You look frustrated. Are you feeling frustrated?” And then listen to them as they express their feelings. Don’t try to diminish their feelings, talk them out of their feelings, or use logic on their feelings. Listen to them and tell them you support them and are here for them.
- Get help.
Find a therapist that can work with your child or teenager. That can be really hard for parents for a number of reasons, but often we feel like we need to be able to handle everything. But in many situations, someone with training and with an outside perspective will be the best person to help.
- Teach kids coping mechanisms for stress.
We will all experience stress and we all need positive coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Just like adults might turn to alcohol to get rid of their feelings of stress, teenagers might do the same, or turn to other unproductive and harmful coping mechanisms.
There are a variety of positive coping mechanisms that you can teach your children and help them adopt.
- Teach them to manage their time
- Teach them to set realistic expectations for themselves
- Teach them to breathe deeply or meditate
- Let them do physical practices like yoga or tai chi
- Introduce them to acupuncture or chiropractic
- Help them write down their story and their worries
- Help them identify thoughts that start their spiral and talk back to those thoughts
- Teach them to self-soothe by hugging themselves, rubbing their ears, or holding their own hand
Anxiety and depression are major challenges for all of us, but especially for children and teenagers. Look for the small changes that you can make in your life and with your family to help your children and teenagers grow up strong, healthy, and resilient.